Mattie McGleenan enjoying Cavan adventure
By Cian O’Connell
Mattie McGleenan didn’t stop believing. The Allianz Football League Division One defeats hurt, but valuable lessons were being learned.
As a schoolteacher McGleenan knows all about the value of improving and developing so positives were located, crumbs of comfort found.
Relegation occurred and the Championship brought further setbacks, but McGleenan remained faithful. Cavan would summon a response, and that is precisely what has happened in the early weeks of 2018.
A team featuring 10 debutants was named for a tricky Division Two opener away to Clare where a draw was scrambled. Slowly, but surely experienced footballers have returned ensuring three victories have been registered and suddenly Cavan are brimful of optimism.
The tradition is deep so unsurprisingly McGleenan is satisfied with Cavan’s seven point haul from four games. “It is fantastic and I suppose it highlights the fantastic group of young men that I'm working with,” McGlennan states.
Our training has been absolutely class
“They have a great attitude, a great love for the game and at this minute we are having a great time, the boys are enjoying themselves and their football. We are just delighted to be top of the table.”
Having introduced so many emerging players to the senior inter-county arena McGleenan acknowledges the role of the established figures within the Cavan camp.
“I suppose I got a huge learning curve last year coming into Division One,” McGleenan admits. “I have been sort of blessed this year that I have been able to see things around me through club football, I have got to know the players a lot more over the past year. We are in a really, really good place.
“Our training has been absolutely class, we have got all our injuries cleared up which has been fantastic. We have Gearoid McKiernan starting to get back to full fitness, you have Cian Mackey getting back to full fitness, we have Seanie Johnston pushing hard back in training again.
“The older guys mixing with the younger guys has sort of transformed our training and it really has lifted our training. Those guys ask hard questions of us as a management, they ask hard questions of the guys coming in and everybody is pushing each other. We are just really enjoying the spin right now.”
It is the blend between the newcomers, some of the four in a row Ulster Under 21 winning brigade, and Cian Mackey and Seanie Johnston which excites McGleenan.
“Absolutely, you have Conor Moynagh, Marty Reilly, Padraig Faulkner, they are great leaders in their own right, and Dara McVeety, another example Killian Clarke,” McGleenan adds.
Our job is to improve as a football team, to improve our performances. We set targets each game that we go out to try to meet.
“There is a great mix right now. The simplest thing is one of the key things we are trying to do is prove people wrong. A lot of people have tipped us to be relegated out of Division Two, I love nothing better than a challenge. I know the players love nothing better than a challenge.
“We all enjoyed the experience we had in Division One and I don't think we did ourselves justice in Division One. I know it was a very hard learning curve, but we are a lot further down the road and we would love another crack at it to see can we do better than the last time we were there.
“It was 20 odd years since Cavan was in Division One so right now in terms of the development of Cavan football lets push as hard as we can in Division Two and if we can do things right over the next few weeks maybe we can sneak into Division One to have another go at it.”
How crucial is it for Cavan to reclaim top flight status? “Certainly I would be earmarking a top three finish,” McGleenan answers.
“I don't look at it League table wise in terms of points, I look at it in terms of performance based. Our job is to improve as a football team, to improve our performances. We set targets each game that we go out to try to meet. We are challenging each other to be better in terms of the skills of the game and our decision making on the football field.
“We will run with the League, we are having a great time. To go down to Cork, to go into the new stadium was absolutely unbelievable. It gave us a taste of maybe what Croke Park looks like and I thought let us see if we can do this, to see if we could have a really good performance.
“Cork was a huge test and let us see where it takes us and in fairness to the boys they bought into what we were trying to do. The effort and application of them is fabulous.
“You have new guys there like David Phillips coming into the team, you have a young lad Conor Brady really pushing hard coming through from Under 20s. There is a great mix of young lads who want to play for Cavan, that is the brilliant thing in my book.
“They want to play for Cavan and to get back into Division One where all of the top players are, the top teams are. When you see from a Cavan point of view your neighbours Monaghan doing so well they would like to have another crack at them down the road maybe in a years time.”
Regardless of what happens in the spring McGleenan will embrace the challenges with hope and optimism. There is a sense that Cavan are beginning to stir again.
I can't ask for better preparation for the Ulster Championship going to Donegal later on in May.
“The League is class, I think, it is a great benefit in terms of Championship preparation,” McGleenan remarks.
“The longer you can stay getting competitive games the more it adds to you in terms of guys gelling together. From a coaching point of view we maxed out last year, we played, I think 11 games last year. For a county season to be based around 11 games you have to get it right and you have to stay in competitions as long as you possibly can.
“I would see that as a huge thing in the National League. Each of these games is challenging us to be better. Our run in is now Down, who were Ulster finalists last year - that is a huge game this Saturday night. We then go to play the Connacht champions Roscommon which is a huge game, they beat us last year. That is a game we are looking forward to and it is a game we will have to raise our game for.
“Finally we have Tipperary, who put us out of the All Ireland series last year. They are three fantastic run-ins, no matter what happens I can't ask for better preparation for the Ulster Championship going to Donegal later on in May.
“Train well, prepare well and use those three games as huge training sessions in preparation for the Championship.” McGleenan and Cavan’s journey continues.